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By In Baseball, Hall of Fame

Monitoring the Hall of Fame Monitor

Been working for a while on a big Baseball Hall of Fame idea — hope to have that out in the next month or so. And while doing some work on it, I ran across a wonderful little prediction section in Bill James’ excellent Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame. Bill was explaining his Hall of Fame Monitor, a method he created to predict a player’s chances of getting elected by the Baseball Writers Association into the Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame Monitor awards points for different categories (17 categories for everyday players, 16 for pitchers). You add up them all up, and anyone who gets more than 100 points is “likely to get into the Hall of Fame.” As it turns out, 125 points is a better indicator than 100, but the main thing is that this system works quite well.

Remember: The Monitor works only for predictive purposes. It is not meant to determine who DESERVES to go to the Hall of Fame. It is based on the sorts of accomplishments that seem to impress BBWAA voters. How many times did he hit .300 in a season? How many times did he get 200 hits or 100 RBIs? How many times did he win 20 games or strike out 200 in a season or throw a no-hitter? How many MVPs? How many Cy Youngs? That sort of thing.

One more time just so we all have it: The Hall of Fame Monitor does not calculate who belongs in the Hall. It anticipates who will get voted into the Hall.

Let’s use 125 Monitor points as our standard to show you how it works:

Hitters: There are 109 Hall of Fame eligible hitters with 125 Monitor Points. Ninety-seven are already in the Hall of Fame. That’s 90%.

And the ones not in the Hall of Fame, for the most part, have presumed PED connections. Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Gary Sheffield are the highest-ranked players not in the Hall of Fame. Then comes Jeff Bagwell, who should get elected next year. Edgar Martinez is on this list too, and he still has a chance.

Pitchers;  There are 52 Hall of Fame-eligible pitchers since 1900* with 125 points. Forty-seven are in the Hall of Fame. That’s 90% again

The five not on the list include Roger Clemens (obvious reasons), Curt Schilling (will still get elected, I think), Trevor Hoffman (will get elected as soon as next year), Jim Kaat and Lee Smith (more on them in a bit)

*Nineteenth-century pitchers racked up huge Hall of Fame Monitor points because they threw so many innings.

Fun stuff, right? Well, for his book, Bill used the Monitor to predict who the BBWAA would vote into the Hall of Fame over the next 25 years. The book came out in 1994, so let’s see how he did.

* * *

1995

Bill’s prediction: Mike Schmidt and Jim Rice

Actual: Mike Schmidt

Interesting that Bill thought Jim Rice would sail into the Hall of Fame first ballot. He did not — Rice got less than 30% of the vote that first year, and his Hall of Fame election turned out to be a long and semi-contentious deal. It took Rice the full 15 years to garner the 75% necessary for election.

Here’s what I think happened: In the 1990s and 2000s, baseball writers began to change subtly the way they voted. There’s still a lot of gut feeling when it comes to Hall of Fame voting — I know a Hall of Famer when I see one — but in the 1970s and 1980s, it was ALL gut feeling. Nobody defended why Billy Williams or Lou Brock or Catfish Hunter or Willie McCovey or Willie Stargell got voted in. It was obvious. Those guys felt like Hall of Famers. Meanwhile, Reggie Smith, Bobby Bonds, Jim Bunning, Ken Boyer, Orlando Cepeda, these guys did not quite feel like Hall of Famers (Bunning and Cepeda were elected later by the veteran’s committee).

In the 1990s, I think, more writers began to think of the Hall of Fame less as interpretive art and more as something to research and study. Some resent the change and think the Hall of Fame has become too number-driven and too performance driven. Most seem happy with the change.

So, while Jim Rice FELT like a Hall of Famer — he hit .300 seven times and just about hit .300 for his career, won an MVP award and led the league in homers three times and RBIs twice — people took a closer look and had some questions. He was a power hitter who did not hit 400 career homers. His numbers were bolstered significantly by Fenway Park. His defensive reputation was lacking. He hit into a ton of double plays.

After asking and getting comfortable with all these points, the BBWAA did vote in Rice. But it took some conversation. The Hall of Fame voting was changing in ways that were not easy to predict.

* * *

1996

Bill’s prediction: Don Sutton and Pete Rose

Actual: Nobody

Sutton was elected two years later. Rose, well, that story has been told.

* * *

1997

Bill’s Prediction: Steve Garvey and Phil Niekro

Actual: Phil Niekro

When Bill James wrote the book, Steve Garvey was had gathered about 40% of the vote each of his first two times on the ballot. He seemed destined for the Hall of Fame.

What happened to Garvey’s Hall of Fame case is not entirely clear. The narrative has been that Garvey’s personal problems — his philandering and illegitimate children and so on — cost him the Hall of Fame. Maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t quite add up. Garvey’s mistakes in life were well known by the time he came on the ballot in 1993. Rick Reilly’s devastating story about Garvey had appeared in Sports Illustrated four years earlier. His ex-wife’s book “The Secret Life of Cyndi Garvey” had also come out four years earlier. The jokes about Garvey were rampant long before he went on the ballot. Heck, I remember Pete Rose himself telling me this one in 1994:

Rose: Did you hear about the Breeder’s Cup?

Me: No.

Rose: I bet on it, and Garvey won it.

Garvey still got strong early support for the Hall of Fame. At that point, the smart bet was that as Garvey’s problems receded from memory, his percentages would go up. It might take time but, yes, he would get elected in the late 1990s.

That didn’t happen. In the late 1990s, Garvey’s support deteriorated, and it never reemerged. I think the reason goes hand-in-hand with what I just wrote about Jim Rice. The BBWAA began to scrutinize players rather than just relying on a few token statistics and powerful memories. Garvey’s Hall of Fame Monitor is 130, making him a very likely Hall of Famer. He won an MVP. He got 200 hits just about every year. He won four Gold Gloves. He was essentially a .300 hitter. He was a starter in a bunch of All-Star Games.

But his career on-base percentage was a blah .329. He never slugged .500 even for a single season. He didn’t reach any of the career milestones that would strengthen his case (no 3,000 hits, no 500 homers — or even 300 — no 500 doubles, etc.). He won those Gold Gloves, but his fielding is an open question. In other words, when you broke down Garvey’s career and compared it to Hall of Fame careers, he didn’t fare especially well. Garvey was a towering figure in baseball. That did not prove enough.

It now looks like Garvey will never get elected to the Hall of Fame. He came up in the expansion era ballot three years ago but got little to no support.

* * *

1998

Bill’s prediction: Gary Carter and Al Oliver

Actual: Don Sutton

Catchers almost always do poorly on the first ballot. Johnny Bench is the only catcher ever to be elected first ballot. Yogi Berra did not get elected first ballot if you can believe that.

Some Hall of Fame catchers first ballot percentages:

Yogi Berra: 67.2%
Carlton Fisk: 66.4%
Mike Piazza: 57.8%
Roy Campanella: 57.2%
Gary Carter: 42.3%
Bill Dickey: 32.2%

Ivan Rodriguez has what would have once been considered a slam dunk case. He leads catchers in a bunch of offensive categories — games, hits, doubles, runs and so on — and he won a billion Gold Gloves. But there is some PED smog clouding up his career and, more, catchers just don’t get elected first ballot. It doesn’t bode well for Ivan Rodriguez next year.

Al Oliver was a lifetime .300 hitter with more than 2,700 hits and 500 doubles in his career. His Hall of Fame Monitor registers at 116, which is why Bill must have thought Oliver would get another Hall of Fame look. But the reality is that Oliver had no chance for the Hall. He’d come up on the ballot in 1991, and he garnered only 4.3% of the vote. He has not gotten another glance since then on any of the Veteran’s Committee ballots.

I don’t think Oliver is quite a Hall of Famer, but his career has been dramatically underappreciated. His Hall of Fame case, in my view, is quite a bit better than Garvey’s, just using one example.

* * *

1999

Bill’s prediction: Nolan Ryan and George Brett

Actual: Nolan Ryan, George Brett, and Robin Yount.

Nailed it.

* * *

2000

Bill’s prediction: Robin Yount and Carlton Fisk

Actual: Carlton Fisk and Tony Perez

The Monitor did not forecast the election of Tony Perez; he scores only an 81. This is because Perez did not hit .300 much, he did not win an MVP, he lacked some of the career milestone statistics.

But looking at Perez a bit more closely helps explain why the Monitor works so well. The Monitor awards players points for being on great teams.

“If the player was a regular on a championship team,” Bill wrote, “award him:

— 6 points if he was the shortstop or catcher

— 5 points if he was the second baseman or center fielder

— 3 points if he was the third baseman

— 2 points if he played left field or right

— 1 point if he was the first baseman.

Prime position players league championship teams and division winners also earn points.

Well, Perez played on numerous championship teams — two World Series winners, five pennant winners — but he didn’t get many points for that because he played first base. The theory is that writers view shortstops as more integral to championship teams than first basemen, and it’s a sound theory.

But Perez is an exception to that rule. First base or not, the writers saw Perez as a leader on those Big Red Machine teams. And the writers were dead on — Perez was the guy everyone admired. The writers gave Perez all the championship points he would have gotten as a shortstop, and that pushed him over the top.

* * *

2001

Predictions: Andre Dawson and Dave Winfield

Actual: Dave Winfield and Kirby Puckett

Pretty good guesswork on Bill’s part predicting when Winfield would retire. Bill also predicted that Puckett would get elected, but he did not foresee that Kirby’s career would end abruptly when he lost vision in his right eye.

Dawson did not get on the ballot until the next year. He was not a first-ballot inductee as the Monitor suggested. Dawson languished on the ballot for a few years before getting elected in 2010.

* * *

2002

Predictions: Eddie Murray and Ozzie Smith

Actual: Ozzie Smith

Eddie Murray stuck around one year longer than Bill predicted.

* * *

2003

Predictions: Dave Parker and Jim Kaat

Actual: Eddie Murray and Gary Carter

Bill saw a down year in 2003. He thought Murray and Carter would be elected, and that would give the BBWAA a chance to elect more marginal candidates Parker and Kaat. This is something we often miss about the Hall of Fame; when a player gets close but does not get elected, it can have an effect on future players. On the current ballot, for instance, Curt Schilling is stuck waiting for some of the top players — Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Trevor Hoffman — to clear.

Dave Parker, like Garvey, lost support over time. He was at 25% in his second year but by 2003 he had dropped all the way to 10% and his Hall of Fame quest was over. A narrative built around Parker that he blew his Hall of Fame chances when he got lost in drugs and weight issues. Once a narrative builds about anything, it is very hard to change.

Jim Kaat was a great pitcher with terrible timing. For instance, he never won the Cy Young Award. He would have won it for sure in 1966 — heck, he finished fifth in the American League MVP voting — but that was the LAST YEAR that the AL did not award its own Cy Young.*

*From 1956 to 1966, there was just one overall Cy Young winner. And in 1966, that award was obviously and unanimously going to Sandy Koufax.

Kaat won 283 games, which is a lot. In 1980, he was 11th on the modern baseball wins list and the nine retired players in front of him were all in the Hall of Fame. He then watched as an unprecedented run of 300-game winners — Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro — all raced by him

Kaat won 16 Gold Glove Awards at a position where nobody cares about Gold Glove Awards.

And so on. When you take in Kaat’s entire career, yes, he’s a borderline candidate. But with just a little bit of luck, he’d have been elected.

* * *

2004

Predictions: Dennis Eckersley and Ted Simmons

Actual: Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor

Another great prediction by Bill on Dennis Eckersley. Bill was two years early on Molitor, who just kept going and going; Molitor played through age 41.

Simmons has a fascinating Hall of Fame case that, in my mind, was crushed by what you might call the Sham factor. How good a horse was Sham? He ran a record-breaking time in winning the Santa Anita Derby as a three-year-old. He then finished second to Secretariat at the Kentucky Derby even though he cracked his head at the starting gate, losing two teeth. He finished second to Secretariat at the Preakness. He was the horse that tried to stay with Secretariat in the early part of the Belmont only to fade away.

But if there had been no Secretariat, would Sham have won the Triple Crown in 1973? Did you know that Sham — like Secretariat — had a heart roughly twice the size of a normal thoroughbred?

What does this have to do with Ted Simmons? He has the second-most hits for catchers in baseball history, behind only Ivan Rodrigues. He’s also second in doubles. He hit 248 homers in his career. He had the same career on-base percentage as Yogi Berra, and it was better than Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter or Ivan Rodriguez.

 

So why did he get just 3.7% of the vote before falling off the ballot in 1994? His 124 Hall of Fame Monitor predicts him as a sure Hall of Famer. He seems to hit all the marks. Why has he not come up in any of the expansion era ballots? Why have so few taken up his cause?

The most logical answer is that Simmons’ defense was below average. He had that reputation, but it’s hard to say that it’s a fair one.  He did have some high passed ball numbers, especially early in his career. But he was about average throwing out base stealers, he was athletic, and he caught a Cy Young winner (assuming you count Pete Vuckovich).

I think his problem is not defense but Shamness. There were three legendary great catchers during Simmons’ era: Johnny Bench; Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter. All three were better than Simmons. Then again, all three were better than just about every catcher in Major League history.

I suspect people couldn’t get their arms around the idea that there was a FOURTH catcher in the same period with a real Hall of Fame case. But that’s how it sometimes goes: We get clusters. We got four of the ten greatest starting pitchers in baseball history in the 1990s and none in the 1980s. There just happened to be four great catchers at one time. Simmons happened the be the fourth or four and, like Andy Murray, that’s not where you want to be.

* * *

2005

Predictions: Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken

Actual: Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg

Bill was just a little early on Ripken and a little late on Sandberg; he did not see Sandberg going in until 2010.

* * *

2006

Predictions: Rickey Henderson and Paul Molitor

Actual: Bruce Sutter

The Hall of Fame Monitor, like many of us, has no idea why Bruce Sutter was elected to the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame Monitor does Lee Smith as a surefire Hall of Famer (127) because he had so many saves, but it has Bruce Sutter well shy of election (79).

I still find the Bruce Sutter election to be one the most bizarre in recent BBWAA history. Look, Sutter was a fantastic reliever, but his vote is so out of line with the rest of the BBWAA’s voting record.  Dan Quisenberry has an almost identical career value, and he got 18 total votes.

* * *

2007

Predictions: Tony Gwynn and Roger Clemens

Actual: Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken

Well, this is pretty telling: Bill predicted Clemens would be eligible for election in 2007. He wasn’t actually eligible until 2013, six years later. Clemens had an unprecedented run at the end of his career for all the reasons that you will have strong feelings about.

Even without that run, though, it was obvious that Clemens was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

* * *

2008

Predictions: Kirby Puckett and Dale Murphy

Actual: Goose Gossage

Bill predicted Gossage would go into the Hall, but not until 2014.

Was Dale Murphy as good a baseball player as Jim Rice? They had almost the same number of plate appearances in the big leagues: 9,041 for Murphy, 9,058 for Rice.

Rice had much better rate statistics, a higher OPS+, more doubles, and triples.

Murphy had a few more home runs, 100 more stolen bases, five Gold Gloves to zero and a higher career win probability added.

Both relied quite a bit on their home park for offensive success.

In their day, I would say that Murphy probably had an edge in reputation. There was a period of three or four years when the consensus considered Murphy the best player in baseball. He probably wasn’t the best, not in a league with Rickey Henderson and Mike Schmidt and so on, but he had the reputation. Rice was feared and admired but you never really heard him called the best player in baseball.

Then, what is reputation worth? By WAR, Murphy’s top eight seasons are each better than Rice’s top eight seasons, though the difference is often minuscule. After season nine, Murphy falls — his career essentially ended after age 32.

I think Murphy’s Hall of Fame case should have been every bit as compelling as Jim Rice’s. But it wasn’t. Maybe people could not forget the image of Murphy’s sad final days (Rice retired fairly young). Maybe Murphy’s lousy teams hurt him. Whatever the reason, Rice kept growing bigger in people’s minds. And Murphy, a great player and person, grew smaller.

* * *

2009

Predictions: Jack Morris and Lee Smith

Actual: Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice

Again, Bill saw a lull coming having predicted that Rice and Henderson would have been elected years earlier. Morris and Smith both got 44% of the vote but neither quite built up to 75%.

* * *

2010

Predictions: Tim Raines and Ryne Sandberg

Actual: Andre Dawson

Here, we often compare Tim Raines and Tony Gwynn because they were outfielders and contemporaries and similar in value, though not in style. But what about comparing Raines and Sandberg?

They were similar talents offensively. Both could run — Raines was faster. Both had some power — Sandberg was stronger. Overall, though, Raines was a substantially better hitter. He had 1,000 more plate appearances and had a 40-point advantage in on-base percentage. Raines created about 300 more runs over their careers.

Sandberg, though, was a second baseman and terrific one, and this made a big perception difference. Sandberg could not match Raines as a hitter, and no one could match Raines as a base runner. But Sandberg played a much more important defensive position and played it beautifully.

The question is: Could Sandberg’s defense make up THREE HUNDRED RUNS? People will agree and disagree on that one. Sandberg cruised into the Hall of Fame three years into his time on the ballot. Raines is coming upon his last chance next year.

* * *

2011

Predictions: Barry Bonds and Joe Carter

Actual: Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven

This is where we get to the fun predictions, the ones Bill was guessing about players very early in their careers. Barry Bonds was just 29 when Bill made this prediction, but this wasn’t hard: Bonds had already won three MVP awards.

Joe Carter, meanwhile, was 34 and coming off his eighth 100 RBI season in nine years. The RBIs told his story. Carter was a .263 hitter at the time with a .309 on-base percentage. He was not a great fielder. But he was good for 30 homers and 100 RBIs just about every year, and he had his time as a stolen base threat, and there was a strong feeling he would just keep compiling those numbers and get himself elected. I can recall hearing the phrase “future Hall of Famer” when referring to Joe Carter.

It didn’t work out that way. His career petered out, and he got just 3.8% of the vote his one year on the ballot.

Bill did predict that Alomar would be elected to the Hall of Fame (a few years later). The one player that Bill missed in this exercise was Bert Blyleven; I’m not sure why. I will have to ask him. The Hall of Fame monitor has Blyleven at 120, which is pretty solid Hall of Fame territory, Blyleven had 3,000 Ks and more than 280 wins. Bill put Kaat on his list but not Blyleven. I think it was probably just an oversight. I’ve spent way more time on this list, I’m sure, than Bill did.

* * *

2012

Predictions: Brett Butler and David Cone

Actual: Barry Larkin

Bill and I are both avowed Brett Butler fans; we just love the way the guy played. I suspect Bill put him on here for fun. Butler was coming off a terrific 1994 season he hit .314/.411/.446 with a league-leading nine triples and 79 runs scored in just 111 games. He was 37 but with 2,089 hits, it did not seem beyond the realm of possibility that he could put together two or three more good seasons and get his hit total past 2,500 and maybe close in on 1,500 runs. As is, Butler finished with a higher career WAR than Jim Rice or Dale Murphy.

Barry Larkin was barely starting when Bill put this book together.

* * *

2013

Predictions: Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker

Actual: Nobody

How much better would it have been if the BBWAA in 2013, instead of electing nobody, had elected Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker?

* * *

2014

Predictions: Goose Gossage and Don Mattingly

Actual: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas

Bill foresaw the election of Greg Maddux and Thomas, even though it was very early in their careers. Gossage was elected earlier than Bill expected.

Mattingly represents the 8,000 plate appearance curse. There have been only six players since World War II elected with fewer than 8,000 plate appearances. Three were Negro Leaguers: Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Larry Doby.

The others: Ralph Kiner (who led the league in homer his first seven years); Kirby Puckett (who had his career shortened by an eye injury); Mike Piazza (who was a catcher).

We just saw the 8,000 plate appearance curse hurt Jim Edmonds — he has a viable Hall of Fame argument but he didn’t even get 5% of the vote. Why? He had 7,980 plate appearances.  Dick Allen, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Mark McGwire, Curt Flood, Fred Lynn, Nomar Garciaparra and Mattingly all had fewer than 8,000 PAs. They all played at a Hall of Fame level but, the voters say, not for quite long enough.

* * *

2015

Predictions: Jack McDowell and Greg Maddux

Actual: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio

It would have been pretty impressive if Bill had predicted any of those four who were elected. Johnson had turned 31, and he was 81-62 with a 3.70 ERA when the book was written. He had not yet won any of his five Cy Young Awards (though he did lead the league in strikeouts three straight years).

Pedro was 22 and had only made 26 career starts.

Smoltz was a three-time All-Star, but his career won-loss record was just 78-75, and he was coming off his worst season.

Biggio was coming off his first terrific season, where he led the league in doubles and stolen bases and won a Gold Glove. Bill would later become Biggio’s most vocal supporter.

Bill’s pick of Jack McDowell didn’t exactly pan out — he got four votes — but at the time of the book’s publishing, McDowell wasn’t a bad bet. He had won a Cy Young, finished second in another, he was 28 and had 91 victories. As it turned out, he only had one more good season.

* * *

2016

Predictions: Fred McGriff and Dwight Gooden

Actual: Ken Griffey and Mike Piazza

Bill did predict Griffey’s election to the Hall, but not until 2018. He had a shot to pick Piazza, but it would have been an amazing guess. Piazza won rookie of the year in 1993 and hit .319 with 24 homers in 1994.

I’ve written enough about Fred McGriff, I suppose, but Gooden represents an interesting question. In the gigantic Hall of Fame post I have coming up (like this one isn’t big enough), I explore different levels of Hall of Fame stardom. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Dwight Gooden in 1985 had one of the five greatest seasons in modern baseball history. By WAR, this is true:

1. Walter Johnson, 1913 (16.0 WAR)

Johnson had all-time great seasons in 1912, 1914, 1915, etc.

2. Babe Ruth, 1923 (14.1 WAR)

Ruth had numerous other all-time great seasons, as everyone knows.

3. Dwight Gooden, 1985 (13.2 WAR)

His second-best WAR season, his rookie season, was less than half as good (5.5 WAR). And he never came all that close to having THAT good a season again.

4. Pete Alexander, 1920 (12.8 WAR)

Grover Cleveland Alexander had a movie made about him starring Ronald Reagan, giving him the ultimate trivia question: Name the only pitcher named for a U.S. President who was played by another one in the movies.

5. Cy Young, 1901 (12.6 WAR)

Did you know that Cy Young never won a Cy Young Award?

6. Steve Carlton, 1972 (12.5 WAR)

About as good in 1980, had five other great years. You know you’re good when people call a baseball pitcher “Lefty,” and they mean you.

7. Carl Yastrzemski, 1967 (12.4 WAR)

Had a 10 WAR season the very next year.

8. Roger Clemens, 1997 (12.2 WAR)

Few think that 1997 was even his best season.

9. Ed Walsh, 1912 (12.2 WAR)

Deadball Era pitchers threw a lot of innings. This year, Walsh threw 393 innings. He had two seasons where he threw more than 400.

10.  Rogers Hornsby, 1924 (12.1 WAR)

Hit .400 the very next year; Hornsby had six 10 WAR seasons.

The question here is: Should that ONE SEASON be enough to elect Gooden to the Hall of Fame? As you can see, it’s a unique situation. All-time great players had the other all-time great seasons. But Gooden was not an all-time great player. He just was for one year. Is that enough We’ll get into that more in our next installment.

* * *

2017

Bill’s Prediction: Frank Thomas and Ruben Sierra

My prediction: Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, and Trevor Hoffman

Ruben Sierra? Well, he was a bold pick in 1994. Sierra was still 28 years old, and he had more than 1,400 career hits, which is more than Derek Jeter would have at the same age. Sierra also had 200 home runs, which is about as many as Barry Bonds had through age 28.

Unfortunately, Sierra never had even a passable season after age 28. He had negative WAR seasons every year but one.

* * *

2018

Bill’s Prediction: Ken Griffey Jr. and Roberto Alomar

My prediction: Chipper Jones and Curt Schilling

I have to believe this Schilling madness will end sooner rather than later.

* * *

2019

Bill’s prediction: Jeff Bagwell and Juan Gonzalez

My prediction: Mariano Rivera, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jim Thome, Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Mussina and Edgar Martinez.

Well, a guy can dream, can’t he?

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By In Baseball, Hall of Fame

Ugh, Yes, More on McGriff

OK, I apologize in advance. I don’t want to make Fred McGriff my new Jack Morris. For one thing, I think McGriff has a substantial Hall of Fame case, better than Morris’. For another, I shake my head when I think back to how often I wrote about Jack Morris. He was an excellent pitcher, and he didn’t need my yammering about his fine career.

But, well, Brilliant Reader Jason pointed out an article by one of my favorite writers, Tom Verducci, who is leading the charge on McGriff. Tom wrote quite a bit about how McGriff’s getting jobbed here and I admire his enthusiasm for an excellent player. But, no, I can’t help myself: Man oh man does he pull off some statistical jujitsu when making his case. As someone who has committed plenty of statistical crimes and misdemeanors through the years, I feel well qualified to say that.

I want to focus on two charts. In the first, Tom compares McGriff to Eddie Mathews, but leads with a spoiler: The Crime Dog, he says, is the “spitting image” of Mathews.

McGriff: 2480 games, 2,490 hits, 493 homers, 1,550 RBI, .284/.377/.509, .886 OPS

Mathews: 2,391 games, 2,315 hits, 512 homers, 1,453 RBI, .271/.376/.509, .885 OPS

Yep, those split lines do look very, very similar. In fact, McGriff has a higher average and more hits and RBIs and even one more point of OPS. Spitting image, indeed. I guess we can go on to the next thing …

Only, wait a minute. If you look closely, you will notice that chart does not include all the stats. I do realize that for space purposes, you cannot include all every single statistic, I mean with grounded into double plays and sacrifice hits and all those new-fangled stats the kids are talking about.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if there’s anything else.

Runs scored

McGriff: 1,349

Mathews: 1,509

Huh, isn’t that a pip! That doesn’t seem especially close, especially with Mathews playing in 90 fewer games. I wonder how that got missed. But, you know, that could have been an oversight …

OPS+

McGriff: 134

Mathews: 143

Oh. Yeah. Shame that there wasn’t room for that in there. Oh wait, what’s that?

WAR

McGriff: 52.4

Mathews: 96.4

Huh. What do you know about that? How in the world is Eddie Mathews’ WAR FORTY-FOUR wins higher than McGriff’s when they are spitting images of each other? I guess it could be because WAR is a badly flawed statistic.

Or, just spitballing here, it could be that Mathews played in a much lower run-scoring time and in one of the worst hitting ballparks in baseball history. It could be that Mathews played a fair-to-good third base while McGriff was a well below-average first baseman. It could be that Mathews, while no faster than McGriff, was considerably better on the bases.

If I believed in Fred McGriff’s case, I also would make passionate arguments on his behalf. I just don’t think comparing him to Eddie Mathews does him any favors.

The second chart shows that from 1987-93, McGriff hit 228 home runs and that was tops in major league baseball. That’s impressive. I will add on McGriff’s behalf, though it’s not in Tom’s chart, that McGriff also led from 1988-94 and 1989-95. But I think Tom was trying to make a steroid-related point, which is why he came up with the 1993 cutoff line. Let’s see if I’m right.

Yep. The next part of the chart shows that 1994-2004, McGriff hit 265 home runsm and this was just 28th in major league baseball. 

This chart was intended, I think, to make the point I was arguing with Brian Kenny about: That, in Tom’s words, the steroid sluggers “made McGriff look like just another hitter.”

Where to begin. OK, for one thing, Tom cheats on the ranges. The first range, 1987-93, is seven seasons. But the second range, 1994-2004, is 11 seasons. I have absolutely no idea why he does this unless he’s trying to give the illusion that 265 homers in 11 seasons is somehow the equivalent of 228 homers in seven. There’s some inconvenient math that seems to be avoided.

From 1987-93, McGriff averaged about 33 homers a year.

From 1994-2004, McGriff averaged about 24 homers a year.

Put that way: Would you expect someone averaging 24 homers a year to lead all of baseball or come especially close?

A second point is even more obvious: McGriff was in his physical prime from 1987-93. That was from age 23-29. When you break down home run leaders in seven-season increments like this, you will almost ALWAYS come up with a good hitter who happened to be in his prime.

Look:

From 1983 to 1989, the home run leader was: Dale Murphy. Not in the Hall of Fame.

From 1984 to 1990, the home run leader was: Darryl Strawberry. Not in the Hall of Fame.

From 1986 to 1992, the home run leader was: Jose Canseco. Not in the Hall of Fame.

From 1990 to 1996, the home run leader was: Cecil Fielder. Not in the Hall of Fame.

The reason those guys are not in the Hall of Fame is because, after their prime, they slowed down considerably or, in some cases, just stopped. McGriff kept hitting homers. But, and this is my point about all this, what Tom and others don’t want to concede is that for all the talk about the PED bombers, the era did not HURT McGriff. It HELPED him. All the elements were there in the 1990s for home run hitters like McGriff to keep piling on numbers. The rules were geared toward home runs. The ballparks. The equipment. And yes, sadly, there was no drug testing — but this too was part of baseball’s hunger for the long ball.

Bill James has written this about Henry Aaron. When you look at Aaron’s raw career statistics, you see staggering, superhuman consistency, especially with the long ball. He hit 44 homers at age 23. He hit 44 homers at age 29. He hit 44 homers at age 32. He hit 44 homers at age 35. He hit 47 homers at age 37. He hit 40 homers at age 39. It’s like Aaron never aged at all.

But he did age. Everyone ages. Even though Aaron WAS the most remarkably consistent player in baseball history some of this statistical uniformity is an obvious illusion. Aaron as a young man played in a terrible hitting ballpark (see Mathews, Eddie). This suppressed his numbers.

But as an older player, he was in the launching pad that was Fulton County Stadium. This inflated his numbers. Fulton County was where Joe Torre hit his career high 36 homers, where Rico Carty hit .366, where Davey Johnson somehow hit 43 homers and so on. Aaron’s 40-plus homer seasons in Fulton County Stadium, while amazing achievements, were not equivalent to the years he had as a young man.

And so it is for Fred McGriff. His 30-homer seasons with Tampa and Chicago toward the end of his career are just not the same as his 30-homer years in the late 1980s. They are a sign of the times.

Tom does make one final point that has some merit: He points out that McGriff was having a superb 1994 season but it was ended abruptly by the strike. He estimates that McGriff lost 16 homers in the process, and that seems fair enough to me. Those 16 would have pushed McGriff over 500, and that would have given him the adulation he deserved.

He’s right. We do love round numbers. I suspect that if McGriff had 500 home runs, as silly as this sounds, he would be in the Hall of Fame right now. See, hitting 500 would have set off a chain reaction. For one thing, he would have done it, presumably, in 2002, which would have been BEFORE Sammy Sosa did it, before Alex Rodriguez did it, before Jim Thome, Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Thomas, Gary Sheffield and even Ken Griffey did it.

In other words, it would have been a big deal, and it would have gotten quite a bit of coverage. During that coverage people would have said all sorts of nice things about McGriff and, I suspect, called him a future Hall of Famer. There probably would have been a live cut-in for his 500th homer at-bat. Lots of people would have remembered his Tom Emanski commercials, his cool finish on his swing and other great things.

Once that happened, it would have been a fait accompli. McGriff would have come on the ballot with 500 homers just as the steroid stuff was raging, writers would have viewed him as one of the last clean 500-home run guys, and I do believe he would have been elected quickly and without much fuss.

That’s a very strong argument for McGriff because at 493 homers he’s the same player, he would have been with 500.

But it’s also a bit of a cynical one. McGriff with 500 home runs — especially with so many of them coming in the home run era — would still be a borderline Hall of Fame candidate with the same positives and negatives his case has now.

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A thought on McGriff

Had a fun time conversation on MLB Now with Brian Kenny. I guess my pal Bill James was there too though he didn’t get in on the conversation until the very end … it was Brian and me. I like arguing with him. He’s smart and passionate, and we have some good bouts.

This time, he hit me with something a bit surprising. He made the argument that the steroid guys — by hitting SO many home runs — have hurt the Hall of Fame chances of Fred McGriff because now his 493 home runs don’t look nearly as impressive.

I guess I’ve heard this argument before, but I probably didn’t pay much attention to it because I felt a little caught off-guard. He wanted me to respond, and I had to think of something to say. Something about what he was saying struck me wrong. Is McGriff getting overlooked because we are no longer impressed by 493 career home runs? I suppose it’s possible, but at that moment, I felt the exact opposite was much more likely.

So, off the cuff, I said the exact opposite. I said that, rather than hurt guys like McGriff (and Jim Rice and Andre Dawson), the PED-infused home run numbers have HELPED those guys. Why? Because the voting constituency is desperately eager to find steroid-clean candidates they can feel good about. Jim Rice was a power hitter with 382 career home runs, and in 1999, he was getting less than 30 percent of the vote. Then, as the steroid story unfolded, Rice’s numbers rapidly rose until he was elected. Jim Rice was a hero that voters could believe in.

Fred McGriff, I said, is a favorite candidate of quite a few voters precisely BECAUSE he is presumed clean. Brian powerfully disagreed with me — even using the line I once used on Mad Dog Russo, “I disagree with everything you just said” — and I listened for a bit after my segment was up and heard Jon Heyman also disagree. Jon is a big McGriff guy. I get that. McGriff was a terrific player. And I certainly could be wrong.

But I will say after pondering: I think I’m right.

Fred McGriff has 52.4 career WAR according to Baseball Reference, which places him ninth among first basemen not in the Hall of Fame. Now, this list does include Mark McGwire, who admitted using PEDs, Rafael Palmeiro, who tested positive, and Jeff Bagwell, who has had to shake the unsubstantiated whispers. So let’s not talk about them for a moment.

The list also includes Keith Hernandez, Will Clark, and John Olerud. All three of them have at least four more wins in their careers. I think you could make a non-sabermetric argument that all three were at least as good and arguably better players than McGriff. And yet none of them have done nearly as well in the Hall of Fame voting. Keith Hernandez stayed on the ballot for nine years but never broke 11 percent. Will Clark fell off the ballot after one year. John Olerud got four votes.

But there’s more. By WAR, Norm Cash had essentially the same career value as McGriff. He played in a dreadful hitting era, which dampened his numbers, but he was a fine player who had one legendary season and a few more very good ones. He got six votes his one year on the ballot.

What about Carlos Delgado? He hit about as many homers as McGriff (493 to 473) with a 40 more doubles, a higher on-base and slugging percentage and OPS+. He fell off the ballot after one year.

McGriff has been treated better than all that. There were a couple of years — when the ballot was overstuffed with candidates — that he fell a bit in the voting. Maybe that’s what Brian and Jon mean. But he has spent most of his time in the 20 to 24% range, which is just where he was this year. That’s not bad for a borderline Hall of Famer. It’s better than Dale Murphy did, better than Vada Pinson, better than Don Mattingly, better than Kenny Boyer, way better than Reggie Smith or Dwight Evans or Lou Whitaker or Bobby Grich or Jim Edmonds or Bobby Bonds or Graig Nettles or a whole bunch of other good baseball players.

Those are also, I might add, higher percentages than Rafael Palmeiro or Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa or Gary Sheffield received, even though all of them have many more home runs. They are connected to steroids. He is not. That is the point. He’s getting support they did not get.

There is a sense among some that McGriff preceded the steroid era, that he is from a time gone by. His career began before, yes, but he played all the way through the era. He hit more than half of his career home runs from 1994 to 2004. I make this point not to connect him to the time but to point out what people seem unwilling to accept: The steroid era was CONDUCIVE TO HOME RUNS, even beyond the PEDs. The balls were jumpier, the bats were harder, the strike zone was smaller, the ballparks had shorter fences and some new ones were at altitude, the hitters got to wear armor. The game was wildly tilted toward the hitter then, and McGriff was able to take advantage of that. This isn’t to diminish McGriff’s home run total but to try and put it in context. He spent the bulk of his career in a prolific offensive era, for PED and non-PED users alike.

McGriff was a fantastic player, an absolute borderline Hall of Famer. But he is that: A borderline Hall of Famer. Brian and John want 493 homers to mean something again, and I get that. But I would argue that as a number, it means too much, not because steroid guys hit a bunch of homers but because the game was so angled toward the home run hitter.

Look: Frank Howard whacked 382 home runs in dead-end ballparks in the worst hitting era of the last 90 or so years. From 1967 to 1971 — the worst time for hitters — Frank Howard hit more homers than anybody, including Henry Aaron.

What does it mean? Baseball Reference has a little conversion chart that’s fun to use. Let’s convert Howard’s career numbers to, say, the run context in 1999 in Tampa Bay — when a 35-year old McGriff hit .310 with 32 home runs. Do you know how it comes out?

Suddenly Howard’s career slash line is: .318/.403/..579 with 477 career home runs. What do you know? That would have made him one of the greatest players in baseball history.

Frank Howard got six votes his one year on the ballot.

I don’t think Fred McGriff is getting overlooked at all.

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A Hall of Fame Day

Wow, I’ll be posting a lot of Hall of Fame links here today.

— In written form, I go down the Hall of Fame ballot player by player. Here’s Part I.

Why I vote for Bonds and Clemens

A video: I’m guessing but 2016 might be the year when the Hall of Fame started to make its peace with the steroid era.

More to come this afternoon including Hall of Fame Ballot, Part II, and I’ll be putting up a link for that live Facebook Q&A that will start at 8 p.m. tonight.

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Is Trevor Hoffman a Hall of Famer?

From NBC SportsWorld: 

From an emotional point of view, I thoroughly enjoyed and admired the career of Trevor Hoffman.

From an unemotional one, his Hall of Fame case comes down to how you feel about one statistic — the save.

Hell’s Bells

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Unanimity and the Hall of Fame

From NBC SportsWorld:

I wrote a little something (in honor of Ken Griffey) about the BBWAA’s history of never electing a player into the Hall of Fame unanimously. I have heard some sensible people say that there’s something poetic and even romantic about this, something that speaks to the imperfections of all baseball players. I can see this somewhat, though when you look a little closer at WHY no player has been elected unanimously, well, it isn’t quite so romantic.

I particularly enjoyed learning the Mike Schmidt story in here.

Bad Process

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Hall of Fame: The Less-Than-5 Percenters

Prediction: There are 16 players on this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame ballot who will not receive 5% of the vote and, as such, will be bumped off the ballot. It is possible that one or two of these players will climb above 5% — and it’s also possible that one or two more players fall below. But this is my call: Sixteen players will miss out, including some very accomplished players.

Fun facts about five of the 16 players I think will not get 5% of the vote this year:

— One of them hit 600 home runs and three times surpassed Roger Maris’ magic 61 homers in a season mark.

— One of them hit 500 home runs and created more runs in his career than Honus Wagner, George Brett or Mike Schmidt.

— One of them hit more home runs than Yaz and drove in more RBIs than Mantle.

— One of them had the highest OPS for any shortstop in baseball history.

— One of them had a .400 career on-base percentage and more batting runs than Pete Rose.

The last three players might not get 1% of the vote, much less 5% of the vote.
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Hall of Fame Recap

A million things to get to here, so much time so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.

Headline: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas elected to the Hall of Fame.

Let’s get to the good stuff first. This will be the biggest class elected by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America since 1999, when George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount were elected. When you throw in the three managers elected unanimously by the Expansion Era Committee (Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox), we have a powerhouse Hall of Fame event, one of the biggest in the museum’s 75 year history. After last year’s dud of a ceremony, they need it.
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The Massive Hall of Fame Post

I. A short history

First, just a little bit of history. The Baseball Hall of Fame, more or less, was the brainchild of two people. The first knew nothing whatsoever about baseball. The second romanticized the game beyond all reason.

You can think about whose spirit still lingers over Cooperstown.

The first was a man named Alexander Cleland, a businessman who had come from Scotland when he was 27 years old. To say he knew nothing about baseball probably undersells the truth. But according to James Vlasich’s book A Legend for the Legendary, one day in 1934, on other business, he was walking around Cooperstown and he saw workers expanding Doubleday Field. He struck up a conversation with one of the guys, who happened to mention that everyone in Cooperstown was very excited because the 100th anniversary of baseball’s invention in Cooperstown was coming up in just five years.
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The New Hall

Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs wrote a terrific piece a couple of weeks ago where he tries to determine what exactly is the Hall of Fame’s historical standard. Where is that line drawn? He finds that the traditional standard is somewhere between 1% and 2% of all players.

It varies by era, of course. More than 2% of the players born before 1910 are in the Hall of Fame — and I suspect most people would say that there are a few too many of those players in the Hall. There are numerous reasons for this which we can go into another time — one being that these players have been considered several different times in several different ways, so they have had many chances to be chosen — but I think most people agree that the Hall could probably take out a Lloyd Waner, a Ray Schalk, a High Pockets Kelly, a Rube Marquard and so on and have a more consistent Hall of Fame.
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